Apologies for any typos or errors - I'm too tied up in work to proofread.
Never in a million years did we think our family of 4 (kids are 6 and 9) would ever vacation in Asia. My family is very picky about food and, to be honest, Asian culture had never been something we were interested in learning about. After trips to Europe, Australia and S. Africa the past few years, however, we were looking for somewhere to go in 2009 that would be fun and exciting. Many thanks to Fodorite cruisinred for suggesting Thailand last year. Just in case we ended up hating Thailand, we decided to include Bali as well since it sounded like a sure winner. It’s funny how things can turn out so much different than you expect…
We relied almost exclusively on this forum for ideas for the trip and you did not disappoint. This is probably the best planned trip I’ve made in terms of where to go, what to do, etc. I probably made 2-3 mistakes and will highlight those along the way.
I’m going to cut to the chase otherwise I’ll never finish. Please feel free to ask questions or send me an email (breevans at hotmail dot com). We’re happy to offer insights/opinions, especially to those who are “typical American families” that are interested in getting a taste of other cultures without giving up certain Western comforts.
RDU / IAD / FRA on United (it got us there)
FRA / BKK on Thai (ok, but no Singapore Air)
Bangkok - June 6
Had Tong’s crew pick us and our 10 bags (yes, 10) up at BKK
Checked in early at the Marriott Resort & Spa, one room on points, one connecting room paid (pre-paid for a little less than $100/night all in). Did not do too much other than venture around the resort and attached mall – the kids did some activity at a store in the mall where you make things out of clay.
First night in Thailand and where do we eat? The Pizza Company! It was actually really good. Yes, we’re pitiful.
Tong called in the evening to say she was not feeling well and Nat would be taking us on our Bangkok tour tomorrow. I had told her when I booked that it would be ok to hand this day off to someone else since I thought we’d be dragging and wanting to keep things short.
Bangkok - June 7
After the Marriott buffet breakfast (free since I seem to live in Marriotts at home),Nat met us at the Marriott pier. We took the Marriott boat, then transferred to the city water bus/shuttle/whatever it’s called (non-touristy one) for the ride to the Grand Palace. The Marriott guys gave the kids some bread to feed the fish which they thoroughly enjoyed.
The palace was interesting and Nat did a great job of providing just enough info to keep us interested, but moving. We knew this was going to be the least interesting activity on our entire agenda for the kids and wanted to get it out of the way first. Cheryl and I are the types that like the highlights of tourist sites, but not much more. Did I mention it was hot? My convertible pants served as a nice oven – I can’t believe some actually think pants are cooler than shorts. Balderdash in this southern boy’s opinion.
We made the short trip over to Wat Pho. We all found this mesmerizing and much more interesting than the Palace. The kids enjoyed doing the coin in the bucket deal, too.
We had lunch at a English brew pub on the backpacker street - family enjoyed theirs and I had a decent Thai meal. Last stop was the weekend market. By this point we were beyond hot, tired and ready for the pool. We ventured around a bit, but did not buy a thing. I think we were all in a hot, jetlag induced coma.
Nice swim in the lovely Marriott pool that evening.
Weather was hot and not a drop of rain.
Bangkok - June 8
Tong picked us up at the hotel in the am for a trip to Tiger Temple and an orphanage. I asked Tong if shorts were ok and she looked at me as if I were stupid – “of course.” Boy, did that make a huge difference to me for the rest of the trip. Apologies in arrears to anyone I offended with the shorts (the people still kept smiling though!).
Tong called the orphanage along the way for a list of items they needed. She said we could pick some off the list and go shopping – naturally, we bought everything on the list we could find at the Tesco. I won’t go into details about the TT since there are so many other reports on it. The one “highlight” was my 6-yr old son getting bit by a tiger! Ok, so it was one of the babies you pay extra to play with, but he’s got something to claim that not many others can. The bite left some bruises on his leg in the shape of a smiley face, but otherwise my son was fine (he would not go near the tigers afterward and it even took him a while to touch a deer). To take his mind off the incident, Tong took him to see Bam Bam, her beloved moon bear. I wasn’t quite prepared for her to feed Bam Bam a milk tablet with her mouth! I think I was so shocked (and disgusted!) that I missed getting a picture or video. She told me afterwards that a certain attorney from Boston had done the same thing – wonder who that could be???
Lots of pics and video with the tigers and other animals. I agree with another poster in their trip report that I can’t imagine going to TT with anyone other than Tong. She’s clearly in her element there and the other animals seem to love her. My kids liked feeding the deer, goat and the other Thong (seems like months ago – was that thing a buffalo???). It was an interesting trip – not one we’re likely to do again, but it was a nice one-time experience. Definitely resulted in some nice pics and video.
We had lunch at the spot up the road from TT – I can’t remember what we had, but it was tame Thai. Not bad – don’t think the kids ate much. We brought a jar of peanut butter and some bread for most stops - lifesaver.
Tong pre-ordered cake the day before for the orphanage and the rest of my clan served it while I took video and pics. It was a fun couple of hours and all of the kids seemed really happy (even before the cake) and well cared for. Aside from the supplies we delivered, we bought some things the kids make and made a small donation. It was a nice visit.
Long drive back to the hotel.
Weather was hot and not a drop of rain.
Bangkok - June 9
Railroad market, Floating Market, Fishing Village
One of our favorite things about Thailand was visiting the markets. In hindsight, I could have gotten much more interesting photo/video of the railroad market had I known what to expect when the train arrived. The people here (and everywhere in Thailand, really) doted over my kids, esp my son who has blonde hair.
We loved the floating market – probably would have hated it without Tong’s expertise. Unfortunately, the barbecue chicken lady was not there, but we tried all the other items everyone talks about. I loved the coconut pancakes while Cheryl really enjoyed the coffee in a bag (until she somehow punched a hole in the bag and it went everywhere). We both liked the noodles a lot. We also enjoyed going off the beaten path a bit to see how people really live in that area.
My kids loved the fishing village trip, feeding the monkeys being the obvious highlight. I could have done with a bit fewer monkey stops, but Cheryl says that’s just me being a grumpy boy. Part of my crappy attitude probably resulted from a real soaking I got at the front of the boat during a 30-minute storm (1st rain of our trip).
I enjoyed the oyster and mollusk farm visit – never seen that before. I particularly liked our stop to watch some fisherman dismantle their catfish net and haul up their catch. I can’t imagine doing that every day of my life. As with every stop, the fishermen welcomed us with smiles in spite of being neck-deep in the river and working their tails off.
We had told Tong we’d pass on the lunch since we don’t eat seafood.
Drive back to the hotel was uneventful.
Weather was hot and no rain outside of the soaking I got on the boat.
Bangkok - June 10
Tong met us early in the am so we could make merit. It was an interesting experience, although Cheryl was not too keen about bowing and receiving a blessing from a monk. Outside the temple, my daughter bought a $2 purse and my son picked up a similarly priced Transformer watch – the latter kept him occupied for hours on end on the trip. Who needs monks, tigers and boats when you can have a Transformer watch???
We decided our next stop was the flower market. Tong asked if we wanted a cab or tuk tuk. We’d not done the latter so we went that route thinking it would be a nice one-time experience. How wrong we were! The kids absolutely loved it and Tong did nothing from discouraging them – even Cheryl and I found it to be fun. Or maybe it was Tong screaming like a kid and having the driver do wheelies. Regardless, it became the first of many tuk tuk rides in Thailand.
We loved the flower market – I’d like to go at night sometime. So many colors and smells – quite unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere in the world.
Somewhere in the previous day, Tong had told us about the Buddhist belief about releasing fish as a way of saving someone’s life. My kids really latched onto that so our stop after the flower market was to another market closer to the river where we purchased a lot of fish (pregnant, of course, to maximize the lives saved), eel and frogs. We then took these to the river (where fishing is illegal) and released them. The kids loved it.
The place we released the fish/frogs was at the pier where you catch the boat for the canal tour. I was iffy about doing this, but ended up really enjoying it. The kids loved feeding the fish again, I got wet again and we all got to see some back canals off the beaten path. This was definitely one of those simple, yet interesting, experiences that makes Tong such a great guide.
Lunch was at Coconut Palm. I know a lot of you love this place, but we thought it was just ok. I liked everything I had at the Floating Mkt much better. I believe I had Pad Thai here and Cheryl had cashew chicken. Tong ordered us a bunch of other things – seems like the Vietnamese spring rolls were good.
Now it was time for shopping. Took tuk tuks all over the place, including Khao San Rd (wife loved the clothes, purses, etc. at Lofty Bamboo – they are all hand made by villages with money flowing properly back to them - a nice cause. Tong was wearing some pants from the place which is what led us there. Cheryl also bought a lot of jewelry from several stores in the same building as Tong’s office. From there, she took us to a market in Chinatown so I could explore the watches and we could locate some dvds. Made several purchases here. Also saw things we had not seen elsewhere (and did not see again later), like guns, knives, etc. Last stop was MBK. I think we could have spent hours in here, but time was running short due to my appointment to meet Jack at Monet Il Sarto to pick up my shirts (Bob – I did tell him hello for you).
We sadly said our goodbyes to Tong. We’re convinced she could make eating dirt fun. My kids absolutely love her.
Concluding thoughts about Bangkok:
• Once you get past the traffic and heat, Bangkok is a fascinating city. Tong helped us do just that and I would highly recommend using her for a day to get your bearings (not the tourist sites, per se, but the other things we did). I’d be willing to bet a lot of money we would have fallen into the “hate Bangkok” camp if we had tried to explore the city by ourselves. She took care of the hassles so we could focus on the fun aspects of the city. She explained things we would have never known on our own, took us to places we would have never found and, in general, just made normally boring things fun. She also taught us the ropes for how to get around – something that really helped us later in Chiang Mai.
• We would have liked several more days in Bangkok to do things like visit Chinatown, go to Siam Niramit, more shopping, river cruise, being lazy at the hotel, etc. We spent 5 nights in Bangkok and it was not enough for us.
• We fall into the “love the Bangkok Marriott” camp; the staff is extremely friendly without being intrusive, the pool is very nice and we liked having the little mall and its restaurants and mini-mart right next door. We spent most of the time outside of Bangkok proper so the supposed inconvenient location was irrelevant to us. One note about the hotel, we could only get wireless to work on our balcony (we were in the middle of the main building, 5th floor).
• None of the hotels on this trip had any carpet. Sounds silly, but really cramped my ability to do any workouts in the room (if you’re a P90X type of person).
• I’m somewhat ashamed to admit we looked at the menu for Benihana (that’s our style of Asian food back home ) at the Marriott. It was the only time I got sticker shock on the entire trip. I think we ended up at the Pizza Company again that night
• We were prepared for rain, but only had the one brief storm on the Fishing Village trip. I guess the rain gods were paying us back for our Australia trip where it rained non-stop with record flooding in their “dry season.”
Next up - Phuket
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Apologies for any typos or errors - I'm too tied up in work to proofread.